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NASA's First Pictures of Mercury Taken From Orbit

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Mercury
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« on: March 31, 2011, 01:08:25 am »



Crescent Mercury

Image courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins/Carnegie

In Roman mythology, Mercury was the fleet-footed messenger to the gods. But the MESSENGER spacecraft might seem to be anything but speedy, taking six years to reach Mercury.

The NASA spacecraft needed time to take advantage of gravity assists—using the gravitational pull of planets to slingshot itself into the right path for reaching Mercury's orbit. These maneuvers allowed engineers to change the craft's speed and direction without burning fuel.

MESSENGER made three flybys of Mercury as part of this process, collecting data—such as this October 2008 picture of the planet's sunlit crescent—that gave scientists a taste of what's to come from the orbital mission.

Published March 30, 2011
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